Contrary to what you might expect, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger was in a great mood in the hours leading up to the game tonight. Why wouldn't he be? There's no stress in his end. He knows the odds he's facing, the hand he's been dealt, and the expectations everyone has for this series. He has nothing to lose in his situation.
Besides, as he made clear, from an effort and professionalism standpoint, there's nothing more he could want of his team. So when he was asked why he was confident a blowout loss in Game 1 wouldn't carry over with his squad, "Because we've had good practice at it," he replied with a chuckle. "We've been knocked to the mat before, and we get up every time. I'm not saying we've been beat by 30 before, I'm not trying to be sarcastic about that, but we've had some losing streaks, we've had a lot of adversity and I think the one thing you can say about our team, you know, I can't give you what number Rocky it was where he put in his mouth guard, ‘I'm not going down anymore,' well we're getting knocked down, but we're getting up every time and it's a really cool group to be around and they fight and scratch and claw and do it together and it's a very memorable group for me to coach."
As proud as Joerger may be of his team of fighting Chumbawambas, I think we can all agree if they were a Rocky movie it'd be Rocky V, in that nobody ever wants to watch them play again. The grit-and-grind Grizzles aren't the most entertaining watch even in the best of times, but now, in their decimated state without Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and others, they're a glorified D-League team, forced to rely on Zach Randolph, Matt Barnes, Tony Allen, a 39-year-old Vince Carter and not much else.
To their credit, they played a lot harder from beginning to end in this one. Their defense scrapped and clawed and were relentless in hounding passing lanes and making life miserable for a home side searching for inspiration. Joerger lamented pre-game how the Spurs got the better of them in hustle plays like deflections and steals and run-outs in transition, facets of the game he termed "non-talent related," and vowed that we wouldn't see a repeat performance in those areas. He was proven correct. The Grizzlies came up with 14 steals to San Antonio's eight, they dominated offensive rebounds 16 to three, and they did a good job in containing both Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Still, it didn't matter. None of it mattered.
That's the ultimate strength of the Spurs. Maybe now and again they run into some monster team and can't play up to the competition, but they hardly ever play down to lesser teams. You never worry about them having a stinker to some scrub team or a fourth quarter collapse like the Thunder had against the Mavericks in Game 2. Even when the Spurs look sloppy and disinterested on offense, with seemingly endless dry spells, you look up at the box score and they've finished 47 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from the three-point line. Even when they surrender 16 offensive boards, they still contest shots well enough to allow just 10 second-chance points. Even with 19 turnovers, they hustle back in transition to give up just six on the break. Even when it all looks frustrating and hopeless on one end of the floor, their defense continues to be historically stifling on the other.
Some of it --heck maybe most of it-- had to be Memphis' lack of firepower, but man the Spurs are tough to score against when Leonard and Tim Duncan are on the floor together. The pair had a 93.1 defensive rating in 1,237 regular season minutes together and the number is 72.0 in a merciful 21 minutes so far this series. As long as the team is this difficult to score against, the Spurs are almost slump-proof. Their offensive ruts feel worse than they actually are because what would be a 16-4 run against other teams winds up being a 8-4 run against the Spurs. Even if they aren't fluid enough offensively to ping the ball around the perimeter or shoot it accurately, they still stick to their assignments on defense, Duncan and Leonard still have arms that reach the rafters and they just continue to throw wave after wave of fresh bodies at people, a relentless horde of highlight-averse sentinels, versatile enough to adapt to anything.
Is it fun basketball? Clearly it's not. But the Spurs approach to entertainment seems to be akin to that old joke about the Irishman winning a contest at the bar. They show as much as they need to. The Grizzlies in their current form don't require much of anything that will make its way on to a YouTube montage to defeat.
And make no mistake, Gregg Popovich is clearly bored of the match-up already. The tight nine-man rotation of Game 1? Gone. Say hello to Kyle Anderson and Kevin Martin in the first half. The score when they checked in wasn't nearly as lopsided enough to be in the "garbage time" realm, no one in the main rotation was playing especially poorly enough to warrant banishment and no one was hurt, so introducing Anderson and Martin into the fray --late in the first quarter in Anderson's case-- was just another classic Pop experimental tweak we've seen a million times over. They could've just played their "Hall of Fame" lineup and buried Memphis early, but what would it prove?
So we wound up with the kind of game where the high-scorer finished with 16 points and it probably took you three or four guesses to name the individual.
No one played more than 26:37 for the Spurs, no one particularly stood out and the only plays you remember are the ones where Barnes treated Leonard like he's a radioactive isotope, letting him whiz by for easy slams.
The loudest cheers were for Boban. The loudest cheers always seem to be for Boban.
Joerger was probably the happiest person leaving the arena too. Why wouldn't he be? His guys played their butts off.
Duncan and Manu Ginobili combined for four field goal attempts, and one was a desperation hung-out-to-dry heave at the end of the shot clock and the other was a half-strip/half-block that was counted as a shot attempt by the official scorer but one in which the ball's distance from the ground probably didn't reach six feet. Tony Parker was the "busy one" of "The Big Three," and he finished with six points and four assists, and while such a thing has become more and more commonplace in this new Spurs world order, and it's just the natural cycle of life, it will never, ever stop being jarring to me and I don't think I'm ever going to fully be able to come to grips with it.
In the wake of the Mavs upsetting the Thunder Monday night, this bit of video dominated NBA Twitter.
Charlie Villanueva tried to get in the way of Russell Westbrook and Cameron Payne's pregame routine: pic.twitter.com/7zhvasINPP— Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 19, 2016
It was funny, no doubt, but poignant to me at the same time because it reminded me of something in our own backyard.
There was a time you know when Danny Green was LeBron James' Cameron Payne. He probably didn't think anything of it at the time, just having fun and being a good teammate, just as surely Payne thinks he's being a good teammate to Russell Westbrook.
Here's the thing.. Payne is gaining absolutely nothing by being the hype man to a strutting star. It doesn't win him respect in his locker room or other locker rooms. It doesn't earn him points with the coaching staff or with the star. Westbrook isn't clamoring Billy Donovan behind the scenes for Payne to play more minutes because he's his dancing buddy. All it does is make Payne look like someone who doesn't take his job seriously. Coaches tolerate this kind of stuff from their stars, but mostly roll their eyes at it. When the end-of-bench guys join in, like puppy dogs eager to please an alpha, it just looks sad and sycophantic.
The best thing for Green's career was getting away from James, being cut from the Spurs twice and having to fight tooth and nail for one last chance in the league. He worked his way from the bottom to become an integral component of a champion. He has his own identity now, instead of being a footnote in someone else's antics.
Someone needs to ask Payne if he wants to thought of as a Danny Green someday or if he wants to be another Lance Stephenson or Nick Young.
(We'll be back with more Grumpy Old White Guy Yells at Cloud after this word from our sponsor.)
Leonard and Aldridge have combined for zero assists so far in two games, and I'm guessing that will be brought to their attention between now and tip-off Friday night in Memphis.
14— Danny Green (@DGreen_14) April 20, 2016
In my perfect world Ginobili would see this tweet and reply with "20," Diaw would see it and write "33," Mills would see it and write "8" and they'd all tease Danny about it. "Sorry, we were confused, we're not Americans. Was that not the correct theme?"
Speaking of Manu, forget that fraudulent "Sixth Man of the Year" ballot. I think the real anti-Argentine bias was in the DPOY voting. He got robbed.
LANCE A MAKE EM DANCE https://t.co/3EoVLOKr28— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) April 20, 2016
Your Three Stars:
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
2. Patty Mills
3. Boris Diaw